An A-Z of Extinction (part ¾: N-R)

As we enter what has now been termed the 6th mass extinction on Earth, I thought we could take a closer look at the process and causes of extinctions, as well as the species that have suffered. Do you know your ABCs?

N is for the North China Plain. The North China Plain is a large alluvial plain, bordering the Yellow River, in China. Unfortunately, the plain has faced a reduction in crop yield due to unsustainable farming processes and uses of water in the area. This is certainly not the only area worldwide facing extinctions due to agricultural processes.

O is for Over-exploitation. Over-exploitation of geological, floral, and faunal resources is quickly causing harm to the Earth, and it’s ecosystems. Many organisms now face exhausted food supplies due to hunting for trophies, clothing, food, medicine, or for the tourism market.

P is for Pollution. Pollution is seen globally in the water, air, and Earth. Sadly, it’s only getting worse. When unnatural chemicals (or excess silt in marine environments) enter environments, they can change organisms metabolic processes, in the worst case, leading its death. In the air, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds produce photo-chemical smog, as seen in the image.

Q is for Quagga. The Quagga was a species if Zebra that lived in South Africa. When the Dutch settlers went to South Africa; the Quagga was hunted in a bid to remove competition for their livestock. As of 1878 the Quagga became extinct in the wild, followed in 1883 by the death of the last Quagga in captivity.

R is for Rate. There can be no denying that the rate of extinctions has rapidly increased since the commencement of the Holocene. As of 1600AD population growth and agriculture increased contributing to the increase in the rate of extinctions. Since 1500, 77 mammals, 140 birds and 32 amphibians have become extinct. Meanwhile the natural rate of extinctions is far below this, at two species every 10,000 years.


Image: Smog over Almaty city, Kazakhstan by Igors Jefimovs
Further Reading:
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Part 2:
You're Worrying About the Wrong Bees | WIRED

Honey bees will be fine. They are a globally distributed, domesticated animal. Apis mellifera will not go extinct, and the species is not remotely threatened with extinction. The National Survey of beekeepers released last week reported the lowest winter hive losses of the last 8 years.

The bees you should be concerned about are the 3,999 other bee species living in North America, most of which are solitary, stingless, ground-nesting bees you’ve never heard of. Incredible losses in native bee diversity are already happening. 50 percent of Midwestern native bee species disappeared from their historic ranges in the last 100 years. Four of our bumblebee species declined 96 percent in the last 20 years, and three species are believed to already be extinct…  

That wouldn’t be a big deal, if commercial honeybees could pick up the slack. They can’t.  Managed honey bee colonies supplement the work of natural wild pollinators, not the other way around. In a study of 41 different crop systems worldwide, honeybees only increased yield in 14 percent of the crops. Who did all the pollination? Native bees and other insects.

^ This.


Extinct animals. Don’t forget them.
Thylacine - Yangtze River Dolphin - Ivory-Billed Woodpecker - Quagga - Bubal Hartebeest

The Sixth Extinction

This chart shows the enormous uptick in species extinction over the last century.  

Paul Ehrlich and others use highly conservative estimates to prove that species are disappearing faster than at any time since the dinosaurs’ demise.

There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.

That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.

Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss.

There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.

“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.

Using fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a background rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses. This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible.

Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.

“We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers write.

To history’s steady drumbeat, a human population growing in numbers, per capita consumption and economic inequity has altered or destroyed natural habitats. The long list of impacts includes:

  • Land clearing for farming, logging and settlement
  • Introduction of invasive species
  • Carbon emissions that drive climate change and ocean acidification
  • Toxins that alter and poison ecosystems

Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.

As species disappear, so do crucial ecosystem services such as honeybees’ crop pollination and wetlands’ water purification. At the current rate of species loss, people will lose many biodiversity benefits within three generations, the study’s authors write. “We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on,” Ehrlich said.

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Image Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature

Animals are dying at up to 100 times faster than the natural rate.

Planet Earth is dying all around us on a scale not seen since the annihilation of the dinosaurs. That’s the alarming finding of a new study on extinction rates recently published in Science Advances. Earth’s ecosphere is on the precipice of an epoch on the scale of the Cretaceous-Palogene extinction event. This would be like “sawing off the limb we’re sitting on” as humans.


We’re deeply saddened to report that Angalifu passed away at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Sunday due to complications from old age. With Angalifu’s passing, only 5 northern white rhinos are left on the planet, including Nola, the Safari Park’s elderly female. Angalifu’s genetic material has been stored in the San Diego Zoo Global Frozen Zoo with the hope that new reproductive technologies will allow recovery of the species. This is a tremendous loss, and we invite you join us in our commitment to work harder to ‪end extinction‬. Please re-blog this to spread the word about the plight of rhinos, and take action now.

I want to make something crystal clear to people:

Animal agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of climate change. Climate change is going to kill 100 million people by 2030. By 2050, up to 37% of all species will become extinct. By 2100, the planet will be up to 11 degrees hotter, the oceans will become too acidic to support most of their ecosystems

This is not a Disney movie. Nobody will save the world. And unless you examine your lifestyle, and realize that your diet and actions have fatal consequences, there is no happy ending. We will likely die, along with most of the life on Earth, and it will have been easily preventable by simply not eating animals.

The 6th Mass Extinction on Earth has Begun

Troubling evidence recently released by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology, has  show a large increase in the number of species lost over the last century. The numbers above each bar represent the estimated values for extinct vertebrates. The image above shows that since the industrial revolution, species diversity has been rapidly declining in response to human activity including:

  • Destruction of habitats
  • Introduction of invasive species
  • Climate change
  • Destruction of ecosystems because of pollutants

Erlich and his colleagues do offer hope for the future. If rapid conservation efforts are undertaken now, then  such a dramatic ecological event can be avoided. It is more than likely that if such an even were to occur, the human race would suffer itself.

Source: ScienceAdvances
The Eastern Cougar is officially extinct
Nearly 80 years after it was last seen, the eastern cougar will be officially recognised by US conservation authorities as 'extinct'.

Nearly 80 years after it was last seen, the eastern cougar will be officially recognised by US conservation authorities as ‘extinct’.

Following a four-year review, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will next month remove the eastern cougar from its list of endangered and threatened species — where it has been for the last 43 years.

The big cat, which once roamed North America from Canada to South Carolina, will no longer receive Endangered Species Act protections.

Cougars - along with their cousins panthers and pumas - were once the most widely distributed land mammal in the western hemisphere, but have been driven out from two-thirds of land that they once occupied, wildlife biologists have said.

Continue Reading.

Whalers killed at least 2.8 million whales in the 20th century, worldwide, according to a new study. Scientists believe that 20th century whaling wiped out 90 percent of all blue whales, and decimated countless other whale populations. Some species, such as the minke whale, appear to have recovered; others, like humpback and blue whales, remain close to extinction.

Diving off the Auckland Islands, photographer Brian Skerry’s assistant Mauricio Handler has a close encounter with a southern right whale. Hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, their numbers are on the rebound in the Southern Hemisphere.

Saiga Antelopes Mysteriously Die-Off in Kazakhstan

Saiga antelopes, a bizarre-looking and critically endangered species, are mysteriously dying off in Kazakhstan at an alarming rate, officials said Wednesday, raising fears that a species that has been around since the Ice Age may be on its way to extinction.

In April, Kazakhstan was home to 250,000 saigas. But now, around 40 percent of the Central Asian nation’s population of saigas, or 120,000 animals, has died in the past month, setting back conservation efforts.

So what could possibly be killing these critically endangered animals? The reason is still unclear, so the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in Hatfield in the United Kingdom has sent out a team of veterinarians to Kazakhstan to find out. According to these experts, the bacteria Pasteurella and Clostridia are likely behind the mass die-offs.

(Photo : USFWS/Wikimedia Commons)


NASA - one of the most underfunded programs in America - is our “first line of defense” regarding the discovery, tracking, cataloguing, and deflection of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA’s).

Dinosaurs are extinct today because they lacked opposable thumbs and the brainpower to build a space program.
– Neil deGrasse Tyson

Join the #FightforSpace and demand more from Congress regarding the robust funding of NASA, planetary protection, economic growth, innovation, and the long term survival of the human species. In 3 days, our Kickstarter campaign will end. We don’t have much time, and neither does the human civilization on this Congressional course.